In the Christian's relationship with God, bumps also occur. Again, for some Christians, those bumps may be infrequent, and they may never become significant enough to seriously threaten the relationship, but they do happen. In this spiritual relationship, the reason for the bump always rests with the human; God never gets tired, He has no flaws, He always acts in gracious love, and He knows His children perfectly.
What do these bumps look like? They can be expressed with much the same terminology that is used to describe rift between people. "He doesn't love me anymore. If He really loved me, He wouldn't have done that. He doesn't know how I feel. That was just mean. He doesn't know how hard that particular challenge is for me, or He wouldn't have asked me to do it. I don't feel close to Him anymore. There is nothing special - no zing - in the relationship. His actions toward me really hurt. I'm not sure I trust Him anymore."
These types of statements do not stop with thoughts or words alone. Such beliefs (whether true or not) are followed up with actions. They are usually expressed by pulling back in some way from the other person. In the case of God, the believer becomes less faithful at church. He stops reading his Bible, or reads the Bible casually and out of duty, failing to give close attention to what he reads. He stops telling others what God is doing in his life. He no longer participates in testimony time at church. He stops talking to God about his struggles. He ceases trusting God. He starts watching movies or going to activities to distract himself and fill his time. His heart fails to respond to encouragements that come his way.
Some responses of pulling back in a relationship may seem minor, posing little threat to the relationship. They last a few hours or days, contributing nothing more than a little awkwardness until everything is patched up and back to normal. Other actions are more extreme, and the potential danger is evident. Unless significant steps are taken, the bump will become a permanent rift. In reality, any response of pulling back poses a threat. A small rift can lead to a larger rift just as easily as it can to swift resolution. Any division is an invitation for larger and larger wedges to be driven in. What may start out as an intent not to talk to God for a day or two can unwittingly and rapidly escalate into a complete avoidance of God and church.
Any bump is dangerous and can spell great danger for the Christian's relationship with God. As noted previously, however, humans are imperfect; therefore, bumps will occur. How ought a Christian to respond in those times so that the relationship is protected? What can a Christian do to make sure the bump is smoothed over and the relationship can move forward?
Pulling back, whether intentional or subconscious, may not be as a result of anger or malice; sometimes it simply reflects needing time to recover and for the pain to ease. In order for healing to occur and for the relationship to return to normal, the pulling back must be kept to a minimum both in terms of distance and duration. There must be a firm and underlying commitment that will not accept the possibility for a permanent or even lengthy withdrawal.
The Christian may be unable to talk to God like he did in the past, but he still needs to talk to God. If all he can get out is talking to God about the hurt, then he needs to talk to God about that. He needs to keep the communication open. He needs to tell God the responses that he wants his heart to have, even though they may seem far from him at the moment.
The Christian may not want to read the Bible, but his need to read the Word has not changed. Maybe he will spend several weeks or months in the Psalms, feeling that is all he can absorb. Maybe he repeatedly returns to a few favorite verses. Maybe his usual hour of study becomes five minutes of reading. Whatever the adjustment, the believer cannot abandon the Word.
The struggling believer may find church attendance too challenging, but he still needs to go. Perhaps he will sit more toward the back. Maybe he will interact less with others. Perhaps his mind will wander from the sermon to focus on his own situation. He may not be able to tell others any more than, "Pray for me." The Christian must, however, remain committed to church.
In each of these areas and more, if the Christian finds himself unable to do all that he knows he should, he must at least keep fighting. He will not always win the battle, but he cannot give up trying. He must ask God to help him want to do the right thing and to protect his heart from hardening. He cannot stop believing that God loves him, never intends to hurt him, is always guiding, is enough for him, and so forth. The believer may not always feel or see those things, but they are nevertheless true. Continuing to believe in spite of what seems true is what keeps the relationship moving forward.
Commitment to pursuing a relationship is what allows it to grow. Due to the determined effort required, perhaps it actually grows more during a bump than it would if everything were smooth. Continuing to fight through hard times indicates and requires a level of trust that will not give up even when all is not smooth. This attitude reflects a heart that affirms, "Even if He has hurt me, and even if I don't understand, I will still follow Him." With commitment during such times, things may feel a bit tentative for a while; as one continues working at the relationship, however, the uneasy feeling will fade. Assurance and comfort will return. Before long, the relationship will not only be back to normal, but actually stronger than ever. Determination to remain true to a relationship even during the rough times reflects an understanding that the relationship is permanent and cannot be broken. God will never break His end; the choice is up to the believer.
"I must arise now and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I must seek him whom my soul loves." Song of Solomon 3:2 (NASB)